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Internet Plagiarism:

Developing Strategies to Curb

Student Academic Dishonesty
M. Jill Austin
Linda D. Brown

Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN, USA

The use of computers has made academic dishonesty easier. Powerful word processing programs
allow students to easily ``cut and paste'' ideas from information they find on the Internet or other
electronic media. It is difficult for faculty to document these sources or know whether the
information is legitimate. Faculty can learn several techniques for identifying student papers that
were plagiarized from the Internet or other technology sources. In addition, faculty can develop
approaches to class assignments that minimize students' ability to use Internet sources
inappropriately. The purpose of this paper is to explain the changing nature of plagiarism and
to provide information that faculty can use to minimize students' academic dishonesty.

Michael Connors pointed out that ``academics who once praised the Internet for giving
students more access to information are now worried it is providing students with easy
access to pre-written essays'' (Connors, 1996). The traditional context of plagiarism, in
terms of writing and presenting research papers, is taking someone else's ideas and
claiming personal authorship (Stebelman, 1998). Plagiarism has been defined as taking
another person's ideas and using them as one's own. In Webster's New Twentieth Century
Unabridged Dictionary (1983), a plagiarist is called ``a literary thief.'' According to
Franklin Pierce College librarian Anthony Krier, plagiarism is not a new problem.
There has always been the filing cabinet at the frat house and the underground place on every
campus and the back of the Rolling Stone where you could buy papers. But now, the whole process
is more global and, for the good guys anyway, harder to find (Vigue, 1997).

The use of computers has made plagiarism easier in two ways. First, students' use of
Internet information that may be unavailable in traditional sources makes documenting

Direct all correspondence to: Dr. M. Jill Austin, Department of Management and Marketing, College of
Business, Middle Tennessee State University, P.O. Box 75, Murfreesboro, TN 37132. E-mail:
The Internet and Higher Education 2(1): 21 33
Copyright D 1999 Elsevier Science Inc.

ISSN: 1096-7516
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.




academic dishonesty more difficult for faculty. Second, word processing programs allow
students to easily ``cut and paste'' information from the Internet or other electronic
media to develop a paper that appears to be original work. Anne Marchant, a George
Mason University instructor, calls these high-tech cheaters ``patchwork plagiarists''
(Benning, 1998).
Research indicates that plagiarism is a significant problem in today's institutions of higher education and that the magnitude of the problem has increased in
recent years. Donald McCabe, founder of the Center for Academic Integrity,
completed a survey of almost 7000 undergraduate students in 1990, 1992, and
1995. Results indicate that almost 80% of respondents from 26 small to medium
sized colleges admitted to cheating at least once during their college career.
Results also indicated that at 31 small to medium sized colleges between 1990
and 1995, the proportion of students admitting inappropriate collaboration on work
increased from 30 to 38%. A more dramatic increase in the proportion of students
admitting inappropriate collaboration on work is seen when research results
separated by 30 years are considered. Results for nine medium to large state
universities from 1963 to 1993 indicate that the proportion of students admitting
inappropriate collaboration increased from 11% in 1963 to 49% in 1993 (Center
for Academic Integrity, 1999). These statistics include all forms of cheating such
as copying information from encyclopedias and periodicals, using cheat notes on
tests, and copying from another's paper. Although there is an increase in cheating,
scholars disagree regarding whether the Internet has contributed to these increased
incidences of plagiarism.
There are a variety of ways students can use computer technology inappropriately
while completing class assignments. The most common approach that faculty will
consider is students' use of research papers purchased or downloaded from web sites
such as Students can easily gain access to ``term paper
mills'' by typing in ``term papers'' in any Internet search engine. Many of these term
paper sites offer papers at no charge. The Evil House of Cheat ( claims more than one million ``hits.'' The owner of A1 Termpaper reported sales
of 1000 to 2000 papers in the company's first year of operation and the company now
offers 20,000 pre-written papers (Hickman, 1998). According to company owner, Kenny
Sahr, the ``School Sucks'' web site receives 40,000 ``hits'' each day (Quittner, 1997).
Many of these ``term paper mill'' companies will also write papers specifically for
students for a fee.
However, there are several additional creative approaches to academic dishonesty
that are available to students through technology. Students can cut and paste sections
from Internet articles into their assignments without attributing the work. Information
from CD-ROMs such as encyclopedias, databases, and study guides can be inserted
into assignments. Students may ask for assistance from others through electronic
discussion groups and then cut and paste answers from other people into their work
without acknowledging that assistance was received (Benning, 1998; Berls, 1998).
Research papers that students type in campus computer labs and store on computer hard drives may be downloaded by students and used as their own. These
approaches to student dishonesty are only limited by students' abilities to use technology creatively.



Legal Issues
The debate continues regarding whether plagiarism from the Internet should be regulated
in some way. Currently, 17 states have laws making it illegal to sell term papers to students
(Clayton, 1997). In 1997, Boston University filed a federal lawsuit against several online
term paper companies accusing them of racketeering, wire fraud, and mail fraud. The
lawsuit asked that term paper companies be barred from selling papers in Massachusetts,
that all term papers held by companies named in the suit be seized, and that damages be
paid to Boston University (BU sues over online term papers,1997). In December 1998 US
District Judge Patti Saris dismissed the lawsuit stating that because the sale of term
papers is a violation of state law, a federal suit was inappropriate. She also ruled that
anti-racketeering statutes did not apply to the situation. Boston University legal counsel,
Robert Smith announced that the university plans to file suit in state court (Judge dismisses
suit against term paper companies, 1998).
Companies that sell term papers generally claim that their Internet businesses are
protected by the constitutional right of free speech (Jenkins, 1998). Boston University
attorney Robert Smith does not agree.
I don't think the First Amendment is implicit in this suit at all. These people are in the shabby
business of selling work to others with the intention of obtaining grades and academic credit
(Clayton, 1997).

Some critics suggest that these ``term paper mills'' deal in fraud and that the first
amendment does not protect companies from criminal punishment for fraud (Westling,
1997). Courts and legislators are likely to deal with this issue in the near future as pressure
builds to settle the arguments of free speech vs. government regulation.
The Responsibility of University Administration
University officials have a responsibility to prevent plagiarism on their campuses. The
university's policy on academic dishonesty should be specific and direct, should define
academic dishonesty and should provide a process for handling charges of academic
dishonesty. The university should publish the policy and distribute it widely to both
students and faculty. Copies of the policy should be posted on the university web site, in
the library, student centers, dorms, and other prominent places. Some universities may
elect to develop an honor code system where students are asked to sign a pledge
promising not to cheat and promising to report instances of cheating to university
administrators. In an honor code system, students agree to their responsibility for dealing
with plagiarism offenders. Studies indicate that schools with honor codes generally have
fewer incidences of cheating than schools without honor codes (Schulman, 1998).
Whatever the approach used for academic dishonesty policies, they should be enforced
fairly and consistently.
University administrators should support faculty who charge students with violations
of the academic dishonesty policy. If faculty are concerned about their integrity being
called into question, they will not report cheating instances. It might be helpful for
universities to develop policy statements outlining administration concerns about ensuring
students' academic integrity. In addition, administrators could hold faculty seminars to



discuss ways students use the Internet and other resources inappropriately, ways to
encourage academic honesty, and ways to structure classroom assignments to deter student
dishonesty. Unfortunately, it seems that university faculty will have to become ``cybersleuths'' in the academic world (Ryan, 1998).
The Responsibility of Educating Students about Academic Dishonesty
Faculty should discuss the value to students in doing their own work and should instill a
sense of integrity in their students. Faculty should explain that understanding course
material, practicing and enhancing their ability to communicate in writing, practicing
research techniques, and learning to organize data and information are valuable skills they
will need in the workplace. While it may be difficult to change the values of some students
who see no harm in taking information inappropriately, most students will understand the
value in doing their own work.
It is possible that students do not consider Internet information as proprietary and
assume that it is public domain information (Stebelman, 1998). Faculty should encourage
students to be academically honest and they should define plagiarism and explain that
information accessed using technology must be referenced in the same ways that
traditional library sources must be referenced. Students who use information inappropriately should be held accountable by faculty. Strong negative consequences to students who
plagiarize will educate those who do wrong and may help to change the student culture of
``taking the easy approach'' to assignments that exists on some college campuses. Finally,
faculty can minimize academic dishonesty problems in their classes by carefully planning
their class requirements.
Proposed Class Demonstration /Discussion
Faculty can increase the likelihood that students will be honest in their approach to
assignments if they discuss plagiarism in their classes and include plagiarism information
in the course syllabus. Faculty should build a positive relationship with students and help
them feel at ease in the class. Students in a ``safe'' class environment are more likely to
feel a responsibility to do their own work and are likely to care that faculty respect them as
individuals. Course expectations should be communicated with consistency and clarity
both in the course syllabus and in class discussions. These expectations should not
be changed during the semester so students can be confident in the predictability of
faculty actions.
Faculty should hold a class discussion on academic dishonesty on the first or second
day of class each term. Some portions of the discussion should be reviewed periodically in
conjunction with discussions of class assignments. Some of the most important issues for
discussion include the following:

Review the university's policy on student academic dishonesty including

definitions of plagiarism, possible punishments for dishonesty, and the faculty's
responsibility for following the policy by holding students accountable. (Explain
that copying from a web site or a CD-ROM is the same as copying from a book or
magazine article.)




Discuss specific Internet resources such as The Internet Public Library at http:// and provide links on the class web site to this and other sites. (URLs
often change frequently, so course web page links should be checked frequently
for changes that might occur.) Show students how to use search engines such as
Research-It at to find information on the Internet. Faculty demonstrations of the Internet may discourage
student misuse because students will recognize that faculty have the skills to
``catch'' Internet plagiarism.
3. Discuss acceptable and unacceptable examples of ways to cite Internet
information. Show students sites such as Classroom Connect at http:// to illustrate proper ways to
cite online sources.
4. Show students some ``term paper mill'' sites and critique one of the papers
from the web site in class so students can see that the quality of these papers
is suspect.
5. Explain some approaches that faculty can use to check students' work and
identify cases of plagiarism. For example, a history faculty member might select a
well-known statement such as ``Four score and seven years ago . . . '' and type this
into a search engine. Results from were 827
matches and the first was Lincoln's Gettysburg address. This example will clearly
illustrate to students how easily their work can be checked on the Internet. Faculty
should find specific examples that fit the discipline of the course and the type of
assignment. All of these examples should be tested before class so that the
demonstration will discourage students from plagiarizing.
6. At the end of the class discussion, require students to write a brief summary of the
class discussion on plagiarism and appropriate use of the Internet. This will force
students to evaluate their ideas on plagiarism and will give faculty a sample of
each student's writing style.
Example Class Handout
Students should be provided with a handout defining plagiarism, explaining the
university's policy on academic dishonesty, and noting sources that will assist students
in using the Internet for research in appropriate ways. The handout should be posted on
the professors' web site and should be discussed in class both at the beginning of the
term and during the term as students work on their research assignments. The handout
should be customized for each university and each course. Faculty may want to identify
specific search engines and web sites that are useful for the course topics. In addition,
sites should be listed for the university's web address for the academic dishonesty
policy, the library site, and the faculty web site. (An example class handout is included
in Appendix A.)
The Responsibility of Developing Learning Approaches that Minimize
Faculty can take a variety of approaches to minimize the academic dishonesty that occurs
with the use of technology. Two general ways that faculty can minimize student dishonesty



Table 1. Locating Term Paper Mills


10 Homework Sites
50/100 Essay Sites
100 Essay Sites
50 Essay Sites

include developing types of assignments that make plagiarism from the Internet difficult
and requiring unique instructions for assignments.
Types of Assignments
Before determining the specific assignment, faculty should do some research to
determine the possible ways students might be dishonest. CD-ROMs that are related to the
research, topics available on ``paper mill sites'' (Stebelman, 1998), and web sites on the
topic will give the faculty member a good idea of available data that students might try to
use inappropriately. (Table 1 lists sources faculty may use to find term paper sites.)
After learning what types of Internet assistance is available to students for a particular
topic, faculty can develop a set of instructions that will make it unlikely that students can
cheat. Following are some suggestions:


Set the structure of the assignment so it is not possible for students to buy or
download papers that fit the assignment instructions. Generic subjects should not
be assigned. Research topics should be narrowly focused (Stebelman, 1998). If
faculty develop assignments that are closely related to course goals, the paper
assignments are likely to be so unique that it is difficult for students to cheat
(Rocklin, 1998).
Require essays, papers, and assignments to be written in class if possible. Watch
students write.
Set up short individual meetings with students to talk about the assignments
(Plagiarism and the web, 1998).
Develop new types of assignments. Instead of asking students to write papers,
require that they develop web pages, create brochures (Berls, 1998), develop
databases, etc.
Develop assignments that require students to solve problems, analyze issues, or
make decisions (McKenzie, 1998).

Assignment Requirements
In addition to developing assignments that are structured differently than traditional
term papers, faculty can minimize academic dishonesty in their classes by setting strict
assignment requirements. Some approaches to assignment requirements are listed below.

Ask students to turn in their assignments in sections (Chidley, 1997).

Ask students to turn in notes and rough drafts (Rocklin, 1998).
Require that copies of sources used in the research be turned in with the papers,
including copies of web pages and other Internet sources. Ask students to indicate
specifically where they located each source (Harris, 1997a).


Table 2.


Faculty Resources

``Criteria for Evaluating Internet Resources'' by Keith Stanger, 1998.

``Downloadable Term Papers: What's a Prof to Do?'' by Tom Rocklin, 1998.
``Evaluating Internet Research Sources'' by Robert Harris, 1997.
``Grey Day: A Perfect Time for Lessons on Plagiarism'' by Diane Walker, 1999 http://www.7-12educators.
``The Internet as a Research Tool: Dispelling the Myths'' by Alan Rea and Steve Krauses. http://
``The New Plagiarism: Seven Antidotes to Prevent Highway Robbery in an Electronic Age'' by Jamie McKenzie,
1998. (Center for Academic Integrity) (EVE: Essay Verification Engine) (IntegriGard) (Glatt Plagiarism Services) (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics)


Require students to use course textbooks or material from required sources

(Plagiarism and the web, 1998) in their papers. James P. Pfiffner from George
Mason University said,

I require that students cite some of the texts assigned in the course. I also require a short
background paper as a proposal for the term paper. Most paper-mill products are not neatly
divided up in the way I prescribe and they do not contain references to the recent texts that I
assign (Pfiffner, 1997).


Ask students to turn in several possible introductions for their papers (Rocklin, 1998).
Teach students how to take notes with a database program (McKenzie, 1998) and
require that the disks be turned in with the paper. The database could be used
instead of a paper in some circumstances.
Require students to make oral reports of their research (Harris, 1997a).
Provide specific instructions about bibliography and footnoting styles (Schulman, 1998).
Ask students to summarize their papers in a class assignment after papers have
been turned in.

Faculty may find additional insight into the issues of types of assignments and
assignment requirements in the Internet references listed in Table 2.
The Responsibility of Holding Students Accountable
The Dilemma of Faculty
Holding students accountable for academic dishonesty is often a difficult decision
for faculty. Since some universities automatically expel students who plagiarize,
faculty may be reluctant to see students punished so harshly (Benning, 1998). In
addition, a faculty member takes a risk that his/her conduct may be called into
question and that the university may not concur with his/her approach to handling the



issue. Steve Ritch, director of student affairs at University of South Florida's St.
Petersburg campus, said:
The tough part is catching it. If we make an accusation, we have to have a preponderance of
evidence or the professor isn't or shouldn't take the step to impune someone's integrity
(Ruiz, 1997).

According to a research study conducted on 16 college campuses in 1992, less than

half of the 800 faculty surveyed had ever reported a student for cheating in the classroom
(Center for Academic Integrity, 1999).
Some universities have clear policies on plagiarism, but the policies are not widely
published or discussed. Phyllis Brown, an associate professor of English said,
I believe academic integrity needs to be taught. It's important not only to have a discussion of the
subject in the syllabus, but also to weave issues of academic integrity throughout every course
(Schulman, 1998).

Information in a US Department of Education report emphasizes this point by stating

that ``students will not internalize ethical values if they believe faculty are apathetic or
uninformed about the process of detecting and sanctioning offenders'' (Schulman, 1998).
Schulman (1998) suggests that less plagiarism would occur if universities could create a
culture where both students and faculty realize they have responsibilities to ensure
academic integrity and each group does not want to disappoint the other group.
Methods for Evaluating Papers for Plagiarism
University policies will assist faculty in determining how to handle instances of
plagiarism. However, if faculty members want to determine whether students are
plagiarizing work, they must develop strategies and approaches for identifying plagiarism.
General Sight Evaluation. Faculty can analyze student papers first by evaluating
how well students followed instructions. Faculty can also evaluate sentence structure,
syntax, and use of terminology in assignments. Written work that is either above or
below a student's skill level should be evaluated for possible plagiarism (Stebelman,
1998). These are simple checks that may lead a faculty member to become suspicious
about some papers. These students' papers could be checked more thoroughly
using technology.
Search of CD-ROMS. A variety of technology options are available for checking
whether students' work has been plagiarized. CD-ROM study aids that are available for
the research area should be reviewed. For example, Barron's Notes on Literature or Cyber
Classics might be used to review literature papers (Berls, 1998). CD-ROM encyclopedias
could be checked for research topics.
Search of Online Bookstores. Online bookstores provide information about sources
that will assist faculty in determining whether reference dates are accurate and whether
books used are appropriate for the paper being assessed. For example, a site like http:// can be used to check the publication date on a source and the summary
of the book can be used to determine if the book was used as the source for the material



sited in the student's paper. Inaccurate footnotes will likely cause the faculty member to
suspect plagiarism (Ryan, 1998).
Search of Key Words. Another tool faculty might use to detect plagiarism is to search
the Internet for sources used by students using key words (Internet helps professors catch
plagiarized term papers, 1998 and Ryan, 1998). For example, a key word search of Lycos
using the keywords ``business leadership'' shows 75 sites that include books, articles, web
pages of university leadership centers, and governmental sources of information. Some of
these sites can be checked to prove plagiarism. In addition, a faculty member can put a
unique phrase from a student's paper that is suspect as a key word for a search engine and
will often identify the original source (Stebelman, 1998). Internet search engines such as
Lycos, Excite, Infoseek, and Alta Vista are helpful in these types of searches. Additional
sites are available that may provide faculty with some shortcuts in their searches. Some
examples include the following:

3. provides answers to current issues questions. allows for searches of company and organization web sites. (allows for sophisticated searches) (Wildstrom,

To illustrate how faculty could use these sites to prove plagiarism a search using
``leadership'' is discussed. A ``leadership'' search on was
narrowed by selecting ``industry'' and ``management'' and dates for the last 2 years. A
search conducted in March 1999 revealed 39,000 matches, and listed the 25 that were the
best matches. This search resulted in a number of articles that could be used for a business
class paper on leadership. A question posed to (Who is the greatest
business leader of the twentieth century?) revealed the following: Web Crawler (10
sources), Info Seek (10 sources), Alta Vista (10 sources), and Excite (7 sources). A search
of with key words ``business leadership'' revealed almost 15,000
references. However, when the search was narrowed to ``business leadership, Milton
Hershey, 1929'' 12 references related to leadership and Milton Hershey during the year
1929 were listed. These examples illustrate how helpful search engines can be in searching
out plagiarism.
Use of Plagiarism Services. Several types of software/web sites are available for
detecting similarities in students' papers (Zack, 1998). Warren Brantner and Michael
Drawbaugh developed a process for detecting sentences from students' papers that match
those in their IntegriGuard database. Faculty can subscribe to the IntegriGuard program for
US$4.95 a month. Students submit their papers electronically to a web site called http:// An e-mail message is sent to the faculty member indicating which
sentences ``passed'' the plagiarism test and which sentences did not for all student papers
submitted. The database now includes about 600 papers, but this number will increase
dramatically when students begin submitting their work to the site (Guernsey, 1998).
According to the IntegriGard web site,
IntegriGard creates a psychological deterrent that sticks in the minds of students when they submit
a paper. If the student is tempted to purchase a paper over the Internet with the intent of handing it



in as their work, they must realize that someone else may have purchased the same paper and
submitted it already. It's a risk that many students aren't willing to take (IntegriGard: Protecting
academic integrity, 1999).

Another web service faculty may use to detect plagiarism is Glatt Plagiarism Services
(1999). Former faculty member Barbara Glatt developed a program that can be used by
students to learn how to correctly source materials, and by faculty to prove cases of
academic dishonesty. A self-detection program will delete every fifth word from a
student's paper. If a student cannot fill in 77% of the missing words, he/she is likely
guilty of plagiarism (Self-detection programs help students deal with plagiarism, 1998).
According to Ms. Glatt,
No one can eliminate plagiarism one hundred percent of the time. What one can do is implement a
proactive and visible program to deter plagiarism and encourage academic honesty (Glatt
Plagiarism Services, 1999).

Faculty who want Ms. Glatt to screen papers for plagiarism can send the papers along
with a US$14 fee for each paper (Self-detection programs help students deal with
plagiarism, 1998).
Essay Verification Engine (EVE) performs a search of the Internet to find
papers that have been plagiarized. Faculty can collect student papers on disk or
through e-mail and can have EVE do an Internet search that will provide any
Internet links associated with a specific student paper. Faculty can click on the URL
and go to the site to see where the plagiarism has occurred. In its testing of the
system EVE found 80% to 90% of plagiarized materials (EVE: Essay Verification
Engine, 1999).
All of these approaches to detecting plagiarism are time consuming for faculty.
Obviously the plagiarism services minimize faculty time, but these services do have a
cost that faculty may not be willing to pay. A reasonable approach is for faculty to
do a cursory review of papers to assess writing style, sentence structure and whether
or not students have followed instructions. If the faculty member is suspicious that
plagiarism has occurred, additional searches can be used. Over time faculty can
develop approaches to these searches that are efficient and adequately review papers
for plagiarism.
Ensuring academic honesty in this technology rich environment is a critical issue for
college faculty. College students are still determining their values and learning about
themselves and what actions are appropriate in society. Faculty can assist students in
developing their values by taking a strong stand for honesty. As technology continues to
change, students will have access to information in ways that are not yet understood.
Faculty must continue to learn about these technological short cuts as they are developed
and should incorporate this knowledge into assignment instructions. Students who learn
the definition for plagiarism in today's high-tech environment, will likely find it a
valuable lesson.



Additional Internet URLs Cited plagiarism.html
APPENDIX A. Handout for Students
What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is taking another person's ideas and using them as one's own. Some examples of plagiarism include:
turning in another student's work
paraphrasing work from a source without documenting the source
quoting work from a source without documenting the source (Quotes from ALL sources should be
documented including books, articles, newspapers, CD-ROMS, responses from Internet discussion groups,
Internet web sites, etc.)
turning in a paper that has been downloaded from a term paper site such as
University policy
Include your university's policy on academic dishonesty/plagiarism here.
Internet resources

Recognizing Plagiarism and Avoiding It humanities/composition/handouts/plagiarism.html plagiarism.html



Evaluating the Accuracy of Internet Sites


Resources for Internet Searches (The Internet as a Research Tool) (The Internet Public Library) (Research-It) (Classroom Connect)


Citing Internet Sources (Classroom Connect) (The Columbia Guide to Online Style)

**Add your university's cites where appropriate above.

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